Comic Review – Drifter #8

drifter08_coverIssue #7 showed us an expedition, in which Captain Pollux participates, reach some mysterious area in which beautiful creatures vaguely looking like pterodactyls hover free in the air. But suddenly a beast like them – only darker in colour – attacks the flying animals with a terrible sound. The people in the expedition realise that the new beast is something similar to the wheelers, human-looking creatures who can work harder than any regular person but who are fierce and unforgiving. The animals escaping their aggressor damage the expedition’s ship; after they crash-land it, they end up held at gunpoint by some… beings.Meanwhile, Sheriff Carter is cleaning the floor of the holy house where he killed the murdering priest Arkady.

Issue #8 opens with the expedition running from the individuals who just pointed their guns at them; they think they may be wheelers. Meanwhile, Pollux and the new Deputy Sheriff (who was appointed by the so-called “man in the dark”) seem to be clashing. Pollux then talks to the peaceful wheeler who accompanies them, and through him… the man in the dark hears, and pushes the wheeler to defend his fellows.Meanwhile, the Sheriff is drinking and talking to the barman, who appears to have some secrets too.

The next issue of Drifter will conclude this peculiar story-arc; it will be interesting to find out where it brings us.

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Posted by on October 3, 2015 in Comic Recommendation


Album of the Week – Girl Band: Holding Hands with Jamie


And so it comes to pass that the first knuckle-duster of a rock album of the year is released by a band from Dublin. Formed four years ago, Girl Band (Adam Faulkner, Daniel Fox, Dara Kiely, Alan Duggan) have taken their time to get to this point, but the truism of good things coming to those that wait can work for both sides.

It also doesn’t matter that their live shows in Ireland (for which they are deservedly praised) are in short supply – a band this good can leverage respect from even the most underused gig calendar. Much has been made of Girl Band’s influences. With touchstones such as Washington DC hardcore act Bad Brains, New York’s No Wave scenesters James Chance and the Contortions, our own Chemical Brothers and The Fall, there is firm evidence here of musicians that have checked out the majority of other Irish acts and found them lacking in grit and adventure. There really is no other Irish band around at the moment that can channel No Wave disharmony as well as Girl Band, but what distinguishes them on record, as on stage, is a subtle sense of melody that infiltrates everything they do.

Holding Hands with Jamie starts as it means to go on: Umbongo’s brief guitar ripples halt momentarily before broiling drums and squalls of noise are followed by a fractured, bewildered vocal, bringing to mind the Virgin Prunes’ similarly styled (and frankly deviant) way with deconstructed rock music. It’s amazing, needless to say. ‘Paul’ is one of those excoriating pieces of music that make a strong claim for the validity of kicking in television sets. ‘Texting an Alien’ is like Sultans of Ping gone right, and ‘Fucking Butter’ is eight minutes of controlled freeform that lurches upwards and upwards until it touches the sky.

Greatness, grit, gravity and gleeful – Girl Band’s debut album is all of these and more.

Review by Paul Elliott

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Posted by on October 2, 2015 in Album Of The Week


Album Review – Dwight Yoakam: Second Hand Heart

Dwight Yoakam recalibrated his career with 2012’s 3 Pears, returning to his former home of Warner and reconnecting to the nerviness of his first albums.

With Second Hand Heart, Yoakam continues this unfussy revival, sharpening his attack so the record breezes by at a crisp, crackling clip. Once again, he’s reviving himself through reconnecting the past but what gives Second Hand Heart life is specificity, both in its songs and sound. The former is what makes the greatest initial impression, as it seems as if he’s synthesized all the big Capitol Records acts of 1966 into one bright, ringing sound. To be sure, there’s a fair amount of Bakersfield here, especially apparent on the loping drawl of “Off Your Mind” and the crackerjack rockabilly of “The Big Time,” but the Beatles loom even larger than Buck Owens, surfacing in the chiming 12-strings of “Believe” and harmonies of “She” and evident in the general spirit of adventure that fuels Second Hand Heart. Some of Dwight’s tricks are familiar — the jet propulsion of “Man of Constant Sorrow” borrows a page from the glory days of cowpunk — but his execution is precise and he never lets the record settle in one groove for too long, not even when he tears through “Sorrow,” “Liar,” and “The Big Time” at a breakneck pace. Such sequencing gives Second Hand Heart momentum but what lasts are the songs, a collection of ten tunes — all originals save the standard “Sorrow” and the sweet denouement “V’s of Birds” — that are sturdy yet sly, their hooks sinking into the subconscious without ever drawing attention to themselves.

All this means is that Second Hand Heart is prime Dwight Yoakam: traditional yet modern, flashy yet modest, a record that feels fresh but also like a forgotten classic.

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Posted by on October 2, 2015 in Spotlight on


Album Review – Yabby You: Dread Prophecy: The Strange and Wonderful Story of Yabby You

Relatively unknown outside of the reggae music faithful, Yabby You, born Vivian Jackson, was a Jamaican vocalist and producer who worked in the mid- to late-’70s. With his long dreadlocks, his Rasta appearance meant he was an outcast with the Island’s status quo set, but being an ardent Christian meant he was shunned by the Rastas.

None of this helped his music career a bit, and after a few roots reggae hits he disappeared from the scene. Years later, his music was picked up and heralded by roots reggae addicts across the globe, and with this three-disc set, his legacy expands as Dread Prophecy comes with a highly desirable disc of true rarities. Disc one features the “classics” as signature roots numbers like “Conquering Lion” and Big Youth’s DJ version “Yabby You” display how the man’s music could be spiritual, hazy, and stately, and often all at once. A handful of lesser-known 12″ mixes adds to the already essential first disc by stretching these grooves to proper, longer running times, then disc two presents “The Many Moods of Yabby You” as work with Trinity, King Tubby, and Jah Stitch brings Yabby the producer into focus, touching upon the genres of DJ, dub, and early dancehall. It’s all the crucial stuff fan club members have collected before, but disc three is the unheard holy grail as undiscovered tapes left to Yabby’s widow make their first public appearance. Exclusive dubplates recorded for Jamaica’s touring sound systems are collected along with lost tapes for Yabby’s album Unification, and if that weren’t enough, the physical edition of the set comes with a 28-page booklet filled with rare photographs and enlightening essays.

After the archival reggae label Blood and Fire went out of business it seemed Yabby’s music would go from obscure to gone forever, but Dread Prophecy is a sea-change release, adding a wealth of new and wonderful material to the legacy.

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Posted by on September 30, 2015 in Spotlight on


ARCHIVED ALBUM: Kanye West: Late Registration

And then, in a flash, Kanye was everywhere, transformed from respected producer to big-name producer/MC, throwing a fit at the American Music Awards, performing “Jesus Walks” at the Grammys, wearing his diamond-studded Jesus piece, appearing on the cover of Time, running his mouth 24/7. One thing that remains unchanged is Kanye’s hunger, even though his head has swollen to the point where it could be separated from his body, shot into space, and considered a planet. Raised middle class, Kanye didn’t have to hustle his way out of poverty, the number one key to credibility for many hip-hop fans, whether it comes to rapper turned rapping label presidents or suburban teens. And now that he has proved himself in another way, through his stratospheric success – which also won him a gaggle of haters as passionate as his followers – he doesn’t want to be seen as a novelty whose ambitions have been fulfilled.

On Late Registration, he finds himself backed into a corner, albeit as king of the mountain. It’s a paradox, which is exactly what he thrives on. His follow-up to The College Dropout isn’t likely to change the minds of the resistant. As an MC, Kanye remains limited, with all-too-familiar flows that weren’t exceptional to begin with (you could place a number of these rhymes over College Dropout beats). He uses the same lyrical strategies as well. Take lead single “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” in which he switches from boastful to rueful; more importantly, the conflict felt in owning blood diamonds will be lost on those who couldn’t afford one with years of combined income. Even so, he can be tremendous as a pure writer, whether digging up uncovered topics (as on “Diamonds”) or spinning a clever line (“Before anybody wanted K. West’s beats, me and my girl split the buffet at KFC”). The production approach, however, is rather different from the debut. Crude beats and drastically tempo-shifted samples are replaced with a more traditionally musical touch from Jon Brion (Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann), who co-produces with West on most of the tracks. (Ironically, the Just Blaze-helmed “Touch the Sky” tops everything laid down by the pair, despite its heavy reliance on Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up.”) West and Brion are a good, if unlikely, match. Brion’s string arrangements and brass flecks add a new dimension to West’s beats without overshadowing them, and the results are neither too adventurous nor too conservative.

While KRS-One was the first to proclaim, “I am hip-hop,” Kanye West might as well be the first MC to boldly state, “I am pop.”

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Posted by on September 29, 2015 in Archive Album Focus


TV Review – Olive Kitteridge


If you’re looking for a likable lead character, you won’t find her in Olive Kitteridge. If you want a lovable lead character, you may well find her in Olive Kitteridge, an HBO miniseries that is every bit as astringent and intelligent as its title character.

You can guess what Olive herself would think of “likability”: She’d probably call it a mushy concept fit only for children and imbeciles. She’d dismiss it with a barely audible sigh.This flinty Maine schoolteacher, played with precise determination by McDormand, has no time for saps and sentimental types. And yet, as played by McDormand and as luminously excavated in the Elizabeth Strout novel this fine miniseries is based on, we come to know that Olive feels things deeply. She cares – about people, about animals, about nature, about art – but she is held back by her inability to convey her thoughts and feelings to other people in ways they can accept and understand. People frequently flinch and shrink back from her crisp judgments, but she doesn’t mind: She’d rather not waste her time with frivolity and attempts to be accepted.

Much of the time, you can’t blame her for making withering pronouncements, even as you wince a bit at her bluntness. But Olive’s assessments aren’t often wrong and she’s only noting things that others don’t have the courage to say. With grit and pursed-lips intensity, Olive cooks, gardens and teaches the local kids in her small Maine town. Part of the reason she’s considered odd is because she is, frankly, very smart, but she also can be self-pitying and cruel. Neighbors around town who want to chat or to offer a kind word are often met with an acerbic comment about their children’s intelligence (or lack thereof).

Olive has no time for small talk, but she has a big heart; she feels no need to censor herself, and yet she is keenly aware of what others think of her. Moving with jerky, energetic movements around their small, tidy house or attacking their waterfront garden with verve, Olive takes care of her dwellings and her husband and son in her ways, but her family knows better than anyone else that she can be a lot to take.In short, Olive is a fantastically complex character, and McDormand asks for no sympathy in her portrayal of the woman. Olive never tries to solicit anyone’s pity, but McDormand, writer Jane Anderson and director Lisa Cholodenko bring Olive’s lonely quest for connection to such vivid life that it’s impossible not to ache for her before the miniseries is over.

Review by Paul Elliott

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Posted by on September 29, 2015 in Movies / TV


Album Review – simakDialog: Live at Orion

On 2015’s double-disc Live at Orion, Indonesian jazz fusion sextet simakDialog stretch out across their lengthiest recording yet, opening new avenues of exploration for their grooves, improvisational fire, and often astoundingly telepathic interplay. The album was cut live before a deep-listening audience at Mike Potter’s prog-centric Orion Studios in Baltimore, Maryland during September 2013, the same month that simakDialog’s third MoonJune album, The 6th Story, was released. Naturally, the live set includes several numbers from their concurrent studio outing, but while both The 6th Story and Live at Orion consist of nine tracks, the former was one hour in duration and the latter sprawls out to nearly two. Only the Canterbury-esque “For Once and Never” falls below the ten-minute mark; at the other end of the scale, the 18-minute monster “This Spirit” provides plenty of time for probing investigations of sonic space. Yet simakDialog never lose focus across Live at Orion — and indeed use the extra minutes wisely to amp up the energy and push past the already high quality of their preceding records. While Fender Rhodes player Riza Arshad writes some of the most memorable melodies and riffs in 21st century fusion, performing them deftly in tandem with Tohpati on electric guitar, the two men’s agile soloing here, cutting across simakDialog’s insistent circular rhythms, should command particular enthusiasm from fusion fans. And those rhythms remain unique in the idiom, arriving courtesy of Sundanese kendang drummers Endang Ramdan and Erlan Suwardana, with embellishments from Cucu Kurnia’s metal percussion and electric bassist Rudy Zulkarnaen providing a solid yet responsive foundation.

As simakDialog listeners have come to expect, the kendang players’ often steady clip-clop provides forward momentum but also a sense of understatement that makes standard-issue fusion drummers, playing conventional drum kits, seem like bombastic bashers in comparison. Ramdan and Suwardana lock into the group’s abrupt stops and starts, while the heart of the music finds the percussionists cruising freely forward as Arshad and Tohpati subtly push and pull against the hypnotic beats. With expert pacing, the ensemble begins this set with propulsive yet compositionally multifaceted groovers like “Stepping In” — which finds Tohpati startlingly inventive in his mastery of effects and impossibly fast in his wide interval-leaping phraseology — and gradually opens up to freer modes of collective exploration on second-disc numbers like “Kemarau” and the aforementioned “This Spirit.” Growling, wailing keys and guitar burst from Arshad’s initial compelling world fusion theme in “This Spirit” before an interlude of beautiful lyricism provides a gateway into skittery improvisations that coalesce with rising energy, navigating pointedly back to the tune’s thematic motifs, and the bandmembers are likewise collectively outré after the fractured funk-jazz intro to “Kemarau.” But by the concluding “5, 6” the percussionists are once again holding the groove, despite the shifting time signature and incendiary riffage traded off between Arshad, Tohpati, and guest guitarist Beledo. The percussionists don’t resist the urge to shout during their break, and after all their earlier steady-handedness, who could blame them

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Posted by on September 28, 2015 in Spotlight on


Movie Review – Locke


Locke, written and directed by Steven Knight, is a plot-spare one-character drama that consists entirely of actor Tom Hardy driving in a car. His closest thing to an on-screen co-star is a hands-free phone system. The thrills largely involve the particulars of a construction-site concrete pour.Fasten your seat belt, honest. It’s riveting cinema.Knight delivers a compact-space thriller too rich in underlying emotion to suffer from the genre gimmickry of fare such as “Phone Booth.” The film is also a one-man survival journey, like “All Is Lost.”Knight, however, who directed “Redemption” and wrote “Dirty Pretty Things” and “Eastern Promises,” is interested not in life-or-death survival but in journeys of the moral sort.

Hardy plays Ivan Locke, a respected construction-site manager and devoted family man with a Welsh accent, a beard and soulful eyes that give him a slight mythic quality. As things begin, Locke drives off in a BMW, heading from Birmingham to London. He won’t be coming home to his family. Nor will he be at the site of the biggest concrete pour of his career.Via a nonstop string of phone conversations Locke conducts with characters represented by voice only, Knight reveals that Locke is traveling to see a hospitalized woman named Bethan (Olivia Colman).A feeling of moral duty impels him to visit Bethan and to phone his wife of 15 years, Katrina (Ruth Wilson), and make a confession that could end their marriage. Locke also speaks with his boss, Gareth (Ben Daniels), who warns Locke that his absence from the concrete pour could cost him his job.

Additionally, Locke finds himself coaching the film’s comic-relief character, an unprepared underling named Donal (Andrew Scott), in how to stand in for him during the concrete pour.Conversations with a distressed Bethan complete the mix.As Locke troubleshoots work site glitches, converses with his two unaware sons about a soccer game and tries to hold his life together, Knight doesn’t achieve profundity.Scenes in which Locke rages at his dead father, presented as an invisible back seat passenger and as a reason for Locke’s obsessiveness, suffer from pop-psych shallowness. The voice-only characters come across largely as devices.But overall, this is an exhilarating thriller and a captivating depiction of the workings and triumphs of a conscience. The direction is smooth. The editing is tight. The cinematography, which turns the nighttime traffic lights into gemlike blurs, is exquisite. As the only actor pictured on screen in Locke, Tom Hardy is superb. Hardy is an in-character force who demonstrates the power of restrained acting. Known for roles such as the brutal star criminal of “Bronson” and Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises,” he’s thoroughly believable as a decent construction man versed in the intricacies of C6 concrete. His eyes register a gold mine of psychological shades and compellingly illustrate emotion eclipsing logic.

The closure delivers uplift with only minimal sentimentality. Problem is, you don’t want this movie to end.

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Posted by on September 27, 2015 in Spotlight on


Movie Review – Citizenfour


Laura Poitras’s Oscar-nominated documentary Citizenfour is proof that you can make an espionage thriller without car chases, bikini babes or martinis. Indeed, not only is Citizenfour thrilling, it is chilling because it is real.

And while the man at its centre, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, is the one who has been charged under the US Espionage Act, he’s not the spy here. He’s the counterspy if you like, the one who exposed the astonishing reach of American surveillance activities, domestically and internationally. ‘‘We are building the greatest weapon for oppression in the history of mankind,’’ he says at one point.Hyperbole? Maybe – one of the strengths of this documentary is that Snowden is presented unglossed, at times veering into paranoia or arrogance – but there can be no doubt his revelations are of global importance. As he puts it: “These are not my issues, these are everybody’s issues.’’Snowden’s face is instantly recognisable, but in a limited sense. The image we know is from an interview he did with The Guardian. As such it comes as a mild surprise when, 20 minutes into Citizenfour, we cut to a Hong Kong hotel room and see the world’s most famous whistleblower smiling at the camera.

Citizenfour was the codename Snowden used when he first made contact with Poitras, an award-winning Berlin-based American filmmaker who has focused on the US’s prosecution of the war on terror.As Snowden immediately made clear, the amount of information he was about to divulge would be too much for any one person to handle, so Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill were brought into what would be one of the scoops of the century.The early scenes between Snowden and the journalists in the small hotel room are fascinating to watch. There’s a moment where the fire alarm goes off and Snowden almost loses it. You see the two reporters look at each other, silently wondering if they are dealing with a bit of a nut.They are not. Snowden consistently comes across as intelligent, articulate and motivated by a genuine concern that the US has secretly built a surveillance network “whose reach is unlimited but whose safeguards are not’’.He also makes it clear that he wants to be named as the source, and here there are ­glimpses of a messiah complex: it is best, he says, if he is “nailed to the cross’’.Yet when he is unmasked, his reaction, caught by Poitras’s relentless camera, is unguarded and revealing. Here is a young man who has just brought about the end of his life as he knows it. Late in the film we have the barest glimpse of the life he has now: living in exile in Moscow with his long-time girlfriend.

Citizenfour is as visually unglamorous as a film can be: we see Senate hearings, court cases, Occupy Wall Street meetings, screen shots of email exchanges and lots of footage of Snowden talking to journalists.This is a story that doesn’t need dramatic embellishment: it’s about millions of ordinary people being routinely spied on by government as they go about their daily lives, making phone calls, sending emails or surfing the internet. It will give you pause.

Review by Paul Elliott

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Posted by on September 27, 2015 in Movies / TV


Album Review – Jefre Cantu-Ledesma: A Year with 13 Moons

While the otherworldly sonics of highly influential bands like Loop, Curve, and My Bloody Valentine have inspired legions of shoegaze revivalists, very rarely has the next wave of guitar mangling indie bands risen to the fuzzy heights of narcotic euphoria that made the original crop of shoegaze bands so exciting to begin with. With his 2010 solo record Love Is a Stream, sound artist Jefre Cantu-Ledesma did more than just emulate the wild dreaminess of early shoegaze sounds with a series of pedals. His tape-saturated instrumentals sounded simultaneously broadcast from under feet of snow and from alien worlds, capturing the same spirit of beautiful unknown as the best of the shoegaze canon but expanding on it texturally. The album was a triumph, and five years later its proper follow-up,

A Year with 13 Moons, bests even the brightest moments of that great album, Cantu-Ledesma incorporating both new instrumental elements and a new approach to his process. The album was recorded mostly direct to reel-to-reel tape with minimal overdubs during a residency at San Francisco’s Headlands Center for the Arts. Focusing less on composition and more on the rampant recording of new pieces, Cantu-Ledesma compiled the album from hours of this new material, built on loops of his distinctive ambient textures but also working in both noisy bleats of modular synthesizer and unexpected rhythmic components from a Linn drum machine low in the mix. All of these elements collide on the nearly nine-minute-long opening track, “The Last Time I Saw Your Face,” a micro-symphony of low-frequency synth noise and atmospheric bliss pop. Minimal rhythms are buried beneath sorrowful static on “Love After Love,” evoking the cold wistfulness of early Factory Records-style new wave, the emotional core of the song calling out loudly even when submerged in noise. Much of the rest of the album feels fragmental and half-awake, with the clean Durutti Column-esque guitar loops of “Disappear” melting into blurry melancholia on “Pale Flower” or grating tape noise experiments on tracks like “Early Autumn” and “Remains.” The album’s centerpiece comes with the raw and frigid “A Portrait of You at Nico’s Grave, Grunewald, Berlin [For Bill K.].” Though there’s little movement in the song’s icy loop, it embodies the depths of sadness that the album can sink to, only to be drawn back up into reserved hopefulness and bursts of cathartic noise moments later on “Remembering.”

Without words or structures, A Year with 13 Moons translates a wealth of emotional content, achieving the rare feat of communicating pain, loss, yearning, and nostalgia with a noisy sonic palette that few can turn into anything besides confusion and chaos. This album is a high-water mark for an already impressive artist, and essential listening for anyone versed in abstract pop.

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Posted by on September 25, 2015 in Spotlight on


Album of the Week – Lana Del Rey: Honeymoon


As suggested in interviews leading up to the album’s release, Honeymoon is a return to the jazzy, orchestral sound of Born To Die and Paradise. But unlike her first two records (and more like Ultraviolence), Honeymoon steers clear of the Emile Haynie-dominated production that made the album stand a chance at radio  — not that she’s trying to craft a radio hit, of course. With a gorgeous swell of strings, opening track (and album namesake) “Honeymoon” sets the dreamy tone for the rest of the record. Co-written entirely with longtime collaborator Rick Nowels and engineer-turned-producer Kieron Menzies, the album is Lana’s most intimately crafted set. And, for the most part, she allows herself to indulge at length in the slow-burning productions, with most songs clocking in around five minutes (or longer) as she steadily dreams away her life.

Three years since her debut, life is vastly different for Lana. Having gone from blogosphere curiosity to bonafide superstar in a matter of months, the reclusive singer’s relationship with her newfound celebrity is complicated: On the one hand, she’s notoriously sweet in person, stopping to take selfies with the fans that stalk her in Brooklyn, giving big smiles to the paparazzi and climbing down to give hugs and kisses to the entire front row at her concerts. On the other, “High By The Beach. ”As it turns out, Lana would much rather be high by the beach than dealing with anyone’s bullshit. The Jake Nava-directed video for her lead Honeymoon single is Lana’s first real response to the less desirable aspects of fame: The clip follows her window to window in a gorgeous seaside home, as she’s pursued by an all-too-invasive photographer, conjuring visions of every stalked starlet in search of some privacy, from Elizabeth Taylor to Amy Winehouse to Britney Spears. But Lana is in control of her destiny in this paparazzi fantasy. And, in an unforgettable and hilarious scene – armed with a comically oversized gun straight out of Duke Nukem – she blows that helicopter to bits. How’s that for a good shot, Mr. Photographer? The hypnotic trap-infused cut, with its hymn-like repetitive chorus, isn’t just the album’s most lively moment — it’s the closest we get to hearing anything uptempo from Lana on this album – but perhaps the most assertive and independent Lana has ever sounded on record. “Lights, camera, action / I’ll do it on my own,” she coos.

Gone is the girl cuddling up in our laps and asking for lots of pretty diamonds on Born To Die‘s “National Anthem.” She’s got this on her own, thank you very much. The burst of empowerment is, unfortunately, short-lived: “God Knows I Tried” also finds Lana struggling to deal with celebrity, but instead of shooting down a paparazzo, she’s opted instead to draw the blinds, put on The Eagles’ “Hotel California” and dance all alone. “I’ve got nothing much to live for ever since I found my fame,” she sadly sings along lonesome guitar strings. The chorus is especially haunting, as she resigns to her new reality: “God knows I tried,” she sings over and over again. A nod to “Well shit, at least you tried” in “Blue Jeans,” perhaps?

Plenty of the material on Honeymoon feels like a continuation of the themes and stories that began on Born To Die, including “Music To Watch Boys To,” one of the album’s noir-ish standouts, which plays like a shadowy sequel.

Review by Paul Elliott

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Posted by on September 24, 2015 in Album Of The Week


Album Review – Tom Russell: The Rose of Roscrae

Tom Russell’s The Rose of Roscrae is the final album in a trilogy that began back in 1998 with The Man from God Knows Where. That recording explored his family’s origins in Norway, Ireland, and the American West. He followed it with 2005’s Hotwalker, which looked deeply at post-WWII American culture and mythologized sometimes marginal figures from the worlds of art, film, literature, and more.

For Russell, no myth is larger than life; it is life itself. The Rose of Roscrae, is a sprawling folk opera, or Western musical, complete with libretto — Russell is ambivalent about defining it. Over two discs and 52 selections (many narrated, most sung), Russell delivers an epic that moves from Ireland and Texas, the Plains, California and Mexico to Canada, prisons in the deep South, carnival shows, and all the way back. His cast is equally large: Maura O’Connell, Joe Ely, Dave Olney, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Gretchen Peters, Eliza Gilkyson, Jimmy LaFave, Augie Meyers, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Ian Tyson, and dozens more. Further, along with his own songs, Russell licensed others, plus field recordings with the voices of Johnny Cash, Lead Belly, John Trudell, Walt Whitman, Tex Ritter, and more, adding depth and weight. Real and fictional characters are hard-stitched into his seamless narrative. Part of his story is inspired by his sister-in-law, who ranched a 3,000 acre spread in California after being abandoned by his brother, a cowboy. The story’s “hero” is Johnny Dutton, reflecting back on his 95 years. He recounts his tale of being a teenager in love with Rose Malloy in County Tipperary, Ireland in the 1880s. After a savage beating by her father, he flees across the Atlantic, becomes a cowboy, and then an outlaw: Johnny Behind-The-Deuce. He writes to Rose and lures her to America. They marry but he later abandons her after being encouraged by his cousin, Joseph Dutton — who has his own redemption later in the story — to return to the wild life. The journey is Homeric. Characters such as Joseph Dutton and the mystical priest Father Demian — who runs a leper colony on Molokai — are historical figures. Disc two is from Rose’s perspective sung by O’Connell. She’d married Johnny, been abandoned, ranched alone, seen him return, run him off, moved back to Ireland, and returned his letters unopened when he continued to pursue her. Her perspective on love reveals the stark difference about love between women and men. The pair end up together, but as friends, sharing the weight and wonder of life during a remarkable period in history, with all of its hardscrabble, spiritual mystery. And the music? Folk, rock, country, the Norwegian Wind Ensemble’s Copland-esque serial moments, Celtic, and much more. It’s panoramic, theatrical, and gloriously excessive.

But Russell keeps his focus on Rose of Roscrae; it’s soulful and moving for its reach; it doesn’t need the libretto to be enjoyed, or even to blow your mind. Russell’s view of history may be romantic but it is also gritty as hell, and enduring. This is his masterpiece.

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Posted by on September 23, 2015 in Spotlight on


ARCHIVED ALBUM: Frank Sinatra: Sinatra at the Sands

In many ways, Sinatra at the Sands is the definitive portrait of Frank Sinatra in the ’60s.

Recorded in April of 1966, At the Sands is the first commercially released live Frank Sinatra album, recorded at a relaxed Las Vegas club show. For these dates at the Sands, Sinatra worked with Count Basie and his orchestra, which was conducted by Quincy Jones. Like any of his concerts, the material was fairly predictable, with his standard show numbers punctuated by some nice surprises. Throughout the show, Sinatra is in fine voice, turning in a particularly affecting version of “Angel Eyes.” He is also in fine humor, constantly joking with the audience and the band, as well as delivering an entertaining, if rambling, monologue halfway through the album. Some of the humor has dated poorly, appearing insensitive, but that sentiment cannot be applied to the music. Basie and the orchestra are swinging and dynamic, inspiring a textured, dramatic, and thoroughly enjoyable performance from Sinatra.

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Posted by on September 22, 2015 in Archive Album Focus


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